Muslims aren't giving up on opening Islamic center
St. Anthony's rejection of a proposed Islamic center marks the first time in seven years that a new Muslim house of worship has been blocked by a local government in Minnesota. City leaders said the decision was solely a land-use issue, but Muslim leaders expressed fears that Minnesota may be joining the ranks of other states where proposed mosques and Islamic centers have been blocked by government amid anti-Islamic rhetoric and intense community resistance.
"This is the first one [in Minnesota] where we're seeing so much anti-Muslim hate involved," said Lori Saroya, president of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The Muslim advocacy group asked the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday to investigate allegations of anti-Muslim bias in the rejection of the proposed Abu-Huraira Islamic Center, planned for the basement of the former Medtronic headquarters.
During a City Council meeting Tuesday night, several residents disparaged the Muslim faith and said the Islamic center was not welcome in the small bedroom community north of Minneapolis. At least one resident said Islam is "evil" and embraces violence.
Following the vote, the imam, Sheikh Ahmed Burale, said his congregation of nearly 200 is still interested in using the St. Anthony space and is considering a court challenge of the council's decision.
If the center pursues legal action, the ACLU of Minnesota could participate in the case, said Teresa Nelson, legal counsel for the group.
"We're all very disappointed," Burale said through an interpreter Wednesday. "It's possible we may appeal and win."
Burale and other supporters of the center say they worked for months with city officials, who indicated the proposed use for the space was acceptable. But in March, just before the center went before the Planning Commission, the city issued a moratorium, delaying the project because city leaders said they needed more time to study the zoning code.
Muslim leaders believed the city put the proposal on hold for months because of objections by residents. They were encouraged when the Planning Commission approved the center last week but surprised by the council's action. (...)